3 cheers from BMW

BMW 328i, rear
BMW 328i, front
BMW 328i, side
BMW 320d, front
BMW 320d, side
BMW 320d, rear
BMW 3 Series, Modern trim, interior
BMW 3 Series, Sport trim, interior
BMW 3 Series, Luxury trim, interior
BMW 320d, upright
BMW 3 Series, wood trim, detail

AT a glance there appears to be little different about the all new BMW 3 Series.

Get up close and personal and it's another story - the benchmark Beemer has just got even better.

So much so that it is about the most complete car any driver could wish for.

On the company car front the new 3 Series delivers low emissions which means low tax, from the family point of view it is more spacious and for the enthusiast it handles and performs like never before.

There are also some snazzy trims signalling BMW's intention to make its stalwart saloon more trendy.

At the moment there are four engine choices including a new two-litre turbo petrol boosted to pump out an impressive 245bhp.

Next month come the mainstream diesels and with the entry level 316d to be priced from £24,100 the new car is only £320 more expensive than the previous generation.

Range topping 335i versions cost from £33,300 which is £625 more than before while in the pipeline is a petrol electric hybrid and - for the first time in the UK - and all-wheel-drive version to take head on the Audi quattro.

For the time being the star of the line up is the two-litre diesel, reworked to give the new 3 Series greater pace and remarkable economy.

It's priced from £27,300, has a top speed of 146mph, 0 to 60 acceleration is 7.5 seconds and can average more than 60 to the gallon.

Exhaust emissions are down to 120g/km and can be reduced even further to 109g/km in the full blown but slightly less powerful EfficientDynamics version.

All models in the new range, whether they are manual or with BMW's new eight-speed auto box, have stop/start systems and a multi-mode drive control which can configure the car for maximum economy.

The emphasis on fuel efficiency is helped by the new car being lighter and more aerodynamic.

There are sculpted body cuts, a dipping nose and an air intake right across the front making the car appear lower and wider.

From the rear it is quite chunky and a longer wheelbase has increased legroom in the rear to sensible proportions. Luggage capacity at 480 litres is also up.

Significant changes inside see the instrument panel and centre console angled towards the driver.

A thin-look 6.5-inch display screen sits at the top of the dash and with plenty of buttons plus the multi function iDrive control sited between the driver and front passenger, the cockpit is certainly high tech and involving.

A head up display - a feature from the larger 5 Series range - is a handy option at £800 and shows speed, sat nav instructions and traffic sign alerts in full colour in the driver's line of sight.

Internet connectivity is also available and so is a real time traffic display to help avoid jams.

Sitting above the familiar ES and SE grades are now three trim choices of Sport, Modern and Luxury, each with its own theme.

Sport has the likes of high gloss black interior with a red band running across the dash, Modern includes a lighter coloured pearl finish while Luxury features leather upholstery and wooden trim - although the Fineline wood inserts on one of the cars we sampled had a most pronounced gnarled appearance.

M Sport trim featuring 18-inch special alloys, uprated suspension and sporty body kit remains at the top of the line up.

Nevertheless, while there is much more equipment as standard, the new trims and features such as sat nav push up the price. A 328i in Modern trim that we drove was priced at £42,355 and that's £12,000 more than the basic.

On the road the rear wheel drive set up and well balanced suspension remain key characteristics.

The newcomer has lost none of the feel for which the 3 Series has become renowned and with optional adaptive suspension (a £750 extra) both the 320d and 328i felt sporty and precise.

We saw an average fuel readout of 54mpg from a six-speed manual 320 diesel during a brisk drive on mountain roads - not far from the 61.4 average consumption BMW claims.

The performance from the automatic 328i though was not quite as impressive coming in at 25 to the gallon after a similar drive and that was nearly 20mpg shy of the official 44.8 average.

All engines in the new 3 Series are now turbo and the 328i is powered by a two-litre four cylinder block boosted to pump out 245bhp.

That is big boost and gives the car plenty of muscle with a 0 to 60 time of 6.1 seconds and top speed of 155mph outstripping rivals from Audi and Mercedes.

It replaces the three-litre used in the previous 325i and 330i models leaving the range topping 335i as the only version using a straight six engine so cherished by BMW fans.

But it is on the diesel front that the sixth generation 3 Series comes into a league of its own.

The blend of power, performance and economy from the 184bhp 320d makes this a car which at the moment is without peers among premium saloons.






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